An intense game, at the end of an intense week, in an intense month of an intense season. It’s not that much of a surprise that something went wrong. It would be tempting to suggest that our performance was a bit flat, but it wasn’t. If anything it was the complete opposite, it was almost euphoric; Lundstram sprayed balls across the pitch, Baldock bombed down the flanks, Roofe wriggled and jiggled in the box. It was feverish.
But, particularly in the second half, all that fervour left great expanses of space in front of the back four which Rovers were able to exploit. Michael Appleton blamed it on youthful enthusiasm and said that we should have absorbed pressure and hit them on the break, which I think is about right; it needed someone to chill everyone out a little.
For our last FA Cup/JPT/League triple header against Forest Green, Yeovil and Carlisle, Michael Appleton was keen to avoid players playing three games in a week. The same rule didn’t apply for Swansea, Millwall and Bristol Rovers, despite the significant step up in the class of opposition. Only Dunkley and O’Dowda played all three last time, this time around there were eight; Baldock, Mullins, Wright, MacDonald, Sercombe, Lundstram, Maguire and Roofe. As a result we just seemed to lose a bit of discipline; against lesser teams that might not have been an issue, but Rovers were a decent side.
I don’t think it was necessarily the wrong decision to go with stability for these three games, but it was a risk. But, then what were the alternatives? After the game Nick Harris worked his way through the team trying to find the gaps that needed filling in the squad during the transfer window – basically, he couldn’t find any gaps.
This is true if every players plays to their potential in every game, but, it’s not just about replacing weaknesses but changing dynamics. If there is an area to address, it’s bringing experience into the squad. We’re in a run of fixtures against teams competing towards the top of the table, and that’s in addition to the demands of the cup competitions and squad speculation. Things will begin to even themselves out in February and March. I wouldn’t be surprised to see us drop out of the promotion places in the next couple of weeks; with level heads we should be able to ease our way back into things thereafter.
There were those who bemoaned that we had lost the most important game of the trio, which is true, but at the same time had we not had a team which is capable of beating Swansea and Millwall, then I suspect we wouldn’t have been good enough to play in a game which was important to a promotion challenge. The point of the league, though, is that it measures your success over a long period of time, Sunday may have been a blow, but it wasn’t terminal.